For something as important and physiologically necessary as sleep, we sure do have a hard time keeping tabs on what's truth and what's just plain baloney. Sleep is one of life's great mysteries, in that we don't quite know why we need sleep. Theories suggest we slept at night in safe places to avoid our predators but that doesn't explain why sleep deprivation has such negative effects. Obviously there's a rest and recovery component, but come on...we're not roaming the countryside on foot in search of food so why is a full third of our day needed for sleeping?
See what I mean? It's easy to get fact and fiction mixed up when it comes to our need for sleep but there are many beliefs that are just plain false, and we're covering ten of them right now. It's time to clear these up once and for all, so you can stop Googling.
Here we go!
I'm just a bad sleeper: Oh boy. We sure love to criticize our abilities, don't we? If you have trouble sleeping, please hear me when I say it's absolutely (with 100% certainty) not some internal character flaw. There could be just 2 or 3 things that aren't lining up for you when you try to sleep and those culprits could be causing poor sleep.
Saying you're a bad sleeper is simply assigning a label and choosing to adopt that as truth. I've met both great sleepers and bad sleepers, and the one thing they have in common is they both believe their titles. Regardless of which came first, the title or the sleep experience, the bottom line here is YOU get to choose which kind of a sleeper to be. Stop telling yourself you're a bad sleeper and you'll be amazed by how your sleep improves.
My body only needs 4 hours sleep: No, it doesn't. Unless you've got a very specific gene mutation and are part of a very small proportion of the population who feel energized and well-rested after very few hours of sleep EACH night, you're just like the rest of us and need the recommended amount for your age group and life stage. Some people believe they only need a few hours of sleep each night because they can survive in a sleep deprived state for a while. BUT...and this is a big "but"...you need to ask yourself if your energy, focus, and productivity are at peak level with this amount of sleep.
If you're not operating at your highest level, chances are you're just running on fumes. Think about it this way. A new mother can survive with fragmented sleep of a few hours at a time to accommodate feedings for the baby and the newborn's erratic schedule, but it's for a limited amount of time. If you're only able to get a few hours of sleep every night it's because you've trained yourself to do just that, likely out of necessity because of a stressful situation. Check in with yourself and take an honest look at how you're feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally. The answer will tell you everything you need to know.
I don't have time for sleep: Quite the opposite, my friends but rest assured you're not alone in believing this one. If you're stretched for time because your days are packed from morning to night, you've found yourself in the classic conundrum of wanting to cut out the very thing that'll make your days easier. It's no different than those who feel too tired to exercise. Yes, there will be a bit of discomfort to push through that sleepiness, but in no time at all the energy brought on by exercising will completely erase any sleepiness.
Back to sacrificing sleep to get your to-do list finished. What you need to recognize here is that sleep will recharge your mind and body so you'll be better prepared to efficiently (and effectively) complete everything on your list. Depriving yourself of sleep means the quality of your work will suffer. A well-rested person is a better partner, parent, friend, and member of the community.
It's hard to change my sleep: It is if you keep telling yourself that it is. I'm not sure when we started thinking that change is hard but in truth, we're incredibly resilient beings and are capable of incredible things. Making some tweaks to your daily life to improve sleep is not difficult or painful, and it definitely doesn't have to turn your life upside down. Something as simple as using an eye mask or blackout curtains will give your sleep a huge boost. Degree of difficulty: low.
For years the sleep industry has wanted us to believe that sleep is complicated and that we can't possibly make improvements without a $3,000 mattress or some silly contraption to "cure" snoring. You can choose to buy into this belief and pay the hefty price tag, or you can browse through this blog for free and take small but impactful steps to dramatically improve your sleep. The choice is yours.
My partner and I need to be on the same sleep schedule: This one stems more from a social acceptance perspective of what things "should" look like in our relationships, rather than actual sleep necessity. In western culture at least, sleeping separately or differently than your partner somehow means you're having issues in the relationship. *sigh*
If we all worked the same shifts and had the same family responsibilities it would be a different story but come on! That's just not real life. Not to mention, we each have different times of day when we feel most productive and creative. Pick a sleep schedule that works for you and stick to it consistently, regardless of when your partner needs their sleep.
Sleeping 8 hours a night is for lazy people: It's actually amazing how many people equate rest and recovery with laziness. I talked about this before (link to blog post) but it's worth repeating. Does anyone think babies are lazy for sleeping up to 16 hours a day? Hell no! We're incredibly sympathetic to their new little bodies needing sleep to grow and develop. Yet something happens when we're old enough to start being given responsibilities, and suddenly sleep is treated as a luxury rather than necessity. This time frame usually coincides with the teenage years.
Teenagers are strange enough as is, with their outspoken personalities, overly dramatic lives, and general angst. But they've got a LOT going on internally. Wacky hormones, additional brain development, and a huge demand for sleep. All that to say, sleep is treated as acceptable for babies and young children but we tend to treat teenagers differently and that's typically when sleep starts being equated with laziness. It shouldn't be that way. Everyone in the house needs sleep, regardless of what stage of life they're in.
Skipping sleep is no big deal: Oh but it is! Your energy drops, mental focus tanks, and your judgement is impaired when you don't get enough sleep. Sometimes it can be as bad as driving while under the influence. Not to mention, lack of sleep messes with your cortisol levels, which means your body will hold onto extra body fat. Not cool at all. The whole "I'll sleep when I die" mentality is absolutely bonkers.
I totally understand that promoting good sleep habits makes me sound like the dentist who says to stop eating candy, and trust me, sometimes I feel like a bit of a buzzkill. But for good reason. Sleep is one of those things where you don't know what you've got til it's gone. And when you've been going, going, going, for weeks or even months without adequate sleep, it WILL start to feel like your new normal. But it shouldn't be and it'll make you feel progressively worse the longer you continue down that road. So I guess the question here is, how shitty do you want to feel before you acknowledge the importance of sleep?
Waking up during the night to pee is inevitable: This was me, 100%. Without fail, I'd be up at least once a night to pee no matter how early in the night I cut off my water consumption. Then I listened to a podcast where someone suggested this was a habit rather than necessity. After that I dove into some research that confirmed what I thought was impossible. I had been waking myself up each night because I trained myself to do just that. How annoying!
There is a caveat to this one, and it's important. If you wake up at night you want to ask yourself one question to determine whether getting up is essential. Will I wet the bed if I don't? Laugh if you want but it was amazing to see how many times I'd been rolling out of my cozy bed at 2:30am for what I thought was a cue from my body, when really it was a pattern. Now I ask myself that single question and 99% of the time the answer is no. So I stay in bed. And what do you know? After a few weeks of that, I stopped waking up during the night altogether. Definitely worth breaking that habit!
My partner's snoring will ruin my sleep: This one has two answers. The first is yes, your partner's sleep will absolutely ruin your sleep...if you ALLOW it to. Being annoyed and frustrated by the sound coming from your partner is a choice. Just like you get to choose how to feel about everything in your life, so too can you decide that snoring just isn't going to get under your skin.
We've got an excellent program that'll teach you how to sleep next to your snoring partner (without eliminating the snoring), by managing your thoughts and taking back control of your sleep powers. With that said, the second answer to the common belief that your partner's snoring will ruin your sleep is no, it absolutely will NOT.
The amount of sleep I need should stay the same: Sleep is so fascinating because it's one of the few things we all need and every stage of our lives. But the kicker is that the amount we need doesn't stay constant from birth to death. There are many life stages and events that will change the amount and type of sleep you get. These include pregnancy, illness, demanding physical need (such as athletes), menopause, and your golden years. The sleep you need in your 20's is different than what you'll need in your 70's. So be kind to your body and listen to how you feel.
If the doctor's given you a clean bill of health and you still feel tired, well that's probably a sign that you need to raise the bar in terms of quality and quantity of sleep. You can think of it as a trial offer. Test out the extra sleep for a while and see how you feel. You don't have to commit to it forever and you'll be glad you allowed yourself the chance to rest and reboot.
Well there you have it.
Ten common beliefs about sleep, debunked. We hope this has been helpful and will save you tons of internet searches when all you really need is a bit of shut eye.